Provider pushes back, gets relief from social-media penalties

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Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) has been an outspoken advocate for stricter oversight of providers' social media policies.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) has been an outspoken advocate for stricter oversight of providers' social media policies.

While long-term care officials agree that photos and videos of nursing home residents should not be taken or posted to social media without consent, some operators are pushing back.

Lone Tree Health Care Center in Lone Tree, IA, for example, recently had a $68,000 fine halved and Immediate Jeopardy citation downgraded, after administrators balked.

The original penalties were imposed after the provider allegedly did not conduct a timely investigation into a report of photos of a resident being posted to Snapchat. The continuing care retirement community also did not separate the alleged abusers from residents, authorities said.

Lone Tree Administrator Chris Wolf told ProPublica, which co-published a lengthy story on the social media-photo issue with the Des Moines Register, the fine was too high. She added that neither she and her staff nor authorities had seen the photos — nor likely ever will because of the way Snapchat posts typically expire after 10 seconds or less.

“As far as I'm concerned, the whole thing is pretty ridiculous,” Wolf said. “Nobody in an agency capacity has even seen the picture nor can they see the picture, so how can you write a deficiency let alone a fine when there isn't a picture to substantiate the accusation?”

She added that after appealing the punishment, she was notified that the Immediate Jeopardy finding had been withdrawn and the fine was cut in half.

The photos in questions did not show nudity or abuse, or put residents or others at risk, Wolf said. She added that staff members received training and were told to leave their phones at home or in their cars. Three aides were disciplined in connection with the incident.

ProPublica's story said it turned up 18 incidents in the last year, and 65 since 2012, where nursing home or assisted living employees had posted unauthorized photos or videos of residents on social media platforms.

Last year, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services instructed nursing home surveyors to start checking whether providers have appropriate policies regarding photography and videography of residents.